Talk to any writer or read any number of writing blogs and you will likely find one universal fear: the dreaded phenomenon of writer’s block — that moment when your brain goes blank and a great chasm opens up between your head and your fingers.
Thankfully, I can say I never have writer’s block. Never.
I’ve come close — what writer hasn’t — but it has never nabbed me. And I’ve figured out why. Today, I want to share some of the tricks I’ve learned to keep writer’s block at bay.
- First and foremost, I understand that I can write poorly. While that may seem counterintuitive, it’s not. Instead, understanding this gives me the freedom to write because I never worry about what I write. Why? Because I know I can change it. It’s that simple. I give myself permission to write no matter how the words turn out — and I give myself equal permission to delete text or to ball up a page and toss it into the wastebasket.
- I write and think a lot. The act of writing — whether a masterpiece or something less inspiring — is the act of learning to write. Writing keeps the process flowing the same way that letting water drip from a pipe in cold weather keeps pipes from freezing. I write continually so that I don’t freeze up, so to speak. Even a little bit of writing works — or even thinking about writing. Practice makes you a better writer and thinking is an integral part of writing. The more I write (and think), the more fluid my writing becomes — and the less likely I’ll be stymied by writer’s block.
- I write without inspiration. Writing is fun when you’re struck with a great idea — when a story conspires with time and place and opportunity. But I can’t depend on inspiration. Writing is not a flight on a magic carpet — as inspiration sometimes feels. Writing is work. Hard work. It is less like flying on a carpet and more like weaving one — slipping threads through the warp and tying off thousands of tiny knots one by one — letter by letter, as it were. If you don’t learn to write without inspiration, you’ll likely be struck regularly with writer’s block, mistaking it for lack of inspiration.
- I manage my expectations. There’s not a single novelist who doesn’t want to pen the Great American novel or the next New York Times best seller. Not a single one. That usually means we are all prisoners of our expectations. When you learn about your craft and work hard at it, you can’t help but hope for success. I do, and you should. But as I’ve learned about the realities of the writing world, particularly the fickleness of the publishing industry, I balance what I expect with the reality of what I will receive in terms of affirmation and success. If you go into the publishing world fully informed, with eyes wide open, then realistic expectations will keep you focused and grounded. These can become great motivators. On the other hand, expectations that are unrealistically high — particularly those raised by agents, publishers or friends — frequently fall short. And nothing halts the writing process faster than when unrealistic hopes built on unrealistic expectations come crashing down.
- I cut myself some slack and occasionally take a vacation. Writing is something writers produce. It is not who we are. If you think so, you will eventually hit a wall and your writing will suffer. Think of writing like you would think of driving a car or collecting the mail or buying groceries. Don’t think of it as life and death. You may feel like you live and breathe writing — and you probably do if you’re a serious writer — but the reality is that you can benefit from a change of scenery. When I get tired of working on a novel, I switch to short stories or essays for a while. It keeps me writing and lets me breathe. It feels like a little mental vacation. So if a writing project feels suffocating, give it a rest and step away for a time. Eventually you’ll begin to yearn for it again — and you’ll return refreshed. And on a related note …
- I stop when the well is dry and let it refill. Sometimes writer’s block isn’t writer’s block at all. Instead, you’ve simply exhausted the supply in your creative well. Think of creativity as an artesian well. Water from an artesian well bubbles up on its own, but it can be sucked dry. Sometime you need to wait until it refills before it will produce again. In other words, sometimes you simply need a break to let your creativity percolate and bubble. If you don’t believe me, how many times have you pondered a problem only to sleep on it and have fresh thoughts in the morning? Creativity is thought first — and sometimes thought needs to be refreshed. Take a break. Read something. Doodle. Take a walk. Take a nap. Eat candy. Anything. But give your creative juices time to refill. They will. I promise.
- Finally, I think of writer’s block as a challenge not a hindrance. Don’t fear it! It is something to manage — just like editing or proofing or completing a project. Don’t allow yourself to suffer from it. Instead, challenge yourself to outwit writer’s block as one more step in the process of learning to write well.